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News Report: Chamber criticizes new VAT rules, cites lack of consultation

Published on June 21st, 2023, by Paige McCartney, The Nassau Guardian

Decrying the lack of consultation regarding policy changes in the upcoming fiscal year that impact the business community, Chair of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation (BCCEC) Khrystle Rutherford-Ferguson said yesterday that business owners are hamstrung by the uncertainty and insecurity surrounding new rules regarding value-added tax (VAT) returns.

Referring to the VAT Amendment Bill, 2023 – tabled alongside a compendium of other budget bills – which reduces the VAT filing time for firms that have an annual turnover of $5 million or higher from 21 to 14 days, Rutherford-Ferguson said in some cases businesses don’t get the information needed to submit filings until seven days after the month’s end. She said the business community wholly rejects this policy shift.

“It is unfortunate that these policy shifts are increasingly announced absent any proper prior consultation, or with consultation that lacks sufficient details and advanced notice in order to facilitate meaningful engagement with the business community, to correct any clear missteps and ensure a smooth implementation,” the chamber head said in a statement yesterday.

“Some of these policies include the reduction of the time required to submit VAT returns from 21 days to 14 days for large businesses with no extension allowed, a proposal wholly rejected as unworkable by our members impacted; implementing new business rules without full and open consultation with the business community; and laying a compendium of bills in the House of Assembly during the budget debate which have not gone out for consultation, many of which purport to make changes in the way business is conducted and have been announced to come into effect on July 1.”

Currently VAT registrants must now file their VAT returns and remit the VAT due within 21 days after the end of each tax period. That is expected to change once government passes the 2023/2024 budget. Rutherford-Ferguson said the policy change presents a host of challenges for the business community, including the added administrative costs of increasing staff and implementing new systems to meet the requirements of the rules.

“The BCCEC is disappointed by the continued lack of good faith, most recently illustrated by the decisions highlighted above. As we have stated in the past, we continue to be available to meet with the government and despite recent talks, these proposed changes were not disclosed,” she said.

“In the brief time that we have had to consult our members post the announcement, a number of concerns have been voiced about the ability of businesses to meet this target. Further, there are concerns that the target continues to move arbitrarily regarding VAT filings. The short time frame for implementation also fails to take into consideration the attendant costs of compliance with such a change.”

Rutherford-Ferguson said the government continues to miss the opportunity to collaborate with the business community.

“With proper consultation and partnership between the public and private sectors, we can maximize the benefits that the economic recovery is providing and minimize disruption to our critical business sector. Today, we are hamstrung by the uncertainty and insecurity that the lack of timely and reasonable consultation on policies continues to present. We reaffirm our commitment to our members, that we will continue to advocate for positive change and substantive engagement on issues impacting your business,” she said.

“We trust that the government will rethink its approach to several impending policies which will undoubtedly have a significantly negative effect on how business is conducted, and resources are staffed. A successful economy is built upon a successful business community, and we trust that a government, determined to succeed, will heed our interventions in this regard.”

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